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Friday, February 01, 2008

News: York Theatre Still In Struggle

From the Westender

By Mary Frances Hill

Just a few blocks north from the Pantages, at Commercial near Frances, stands the York Theatre (for the last decade renamed the Raja Cinema), where Tom Durrie is struggling with a restoration problem of a different sort. Durrie has been instrumental in organizing to save the York Theatre space since the 1980s. With only a few months left before the new owner, Vintage Developments, plans to break ground for new townhouses on the site, he, with the Save The York Theatre Task Force, is on a deadline to save it.

“The City is aware of the interest in preserving this theatre, and its historical value and revitalization is important,” says Durrie. Opened in 1913 as the Vancouver Little Theatre, and run by a society of the same name, it changed to the York Theatre in the 1930s. It ran as a Bollywood cinema — the Raja — for a decade before closing in 2006.

The task force plans to present a business plan to the City that may delay the demolition. Durrie says the group hopes the City will present the developer with an alternative site or a density transfer bonus, or elect to rezone the site altogether. Vintage plans to build condominiums in its place and has scheduled to get work underway by May.

Jacquie Gijssen, a senior cultural planner with the City of Vancouver who works as a liaison between the municipality and arts groups, says the York Theatre space is in a tricky spot, as the city can’t infringe on Vintage Developments’ rights. But not all is lost, she says. The City is still waiting for a viable business plan from the York Theatre Society, and the developer is still open to selling the property.

Durrie’s fellow members in the task force — organizers from Early Music Vancouver, Bard on the Beach, Theatre Under the Stars, and an architect with Downs Archambault among them — come from sturdy cultural stock. Even so, they’ve found that raising money for the arts in Vancouver is a tough sell. “People here don’t have that established feeling of support for the arts and theatre,” Durrie says.

Read the full story here...

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